In the last decade, universities around the world have adopted various measures aimed at promoting sustainability in Higher Education and including it in the curricula. This paradigm shift seems to be helping students acquire the knowledge, skills and values necessary to fight for a more sustainable world. But serious global crises such as the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic force us to rethink our behavior and accelerate the step towards a deep commitment to the environment and people.
With this idea in mind, we conducted a study with two objectives. The first, to explore the consumption habits of students from four Spanish universities (two public: University of Seville (US) and University of Cádiz (UCA) and, two private: Camilo José Cela University (UCJC) and International University of Catalonia ( UIC)) by analyzing your individual ecological footprint (HE). The second, to develop indices of connection with nature and pro-environmental attitude to determine the relationships between these indices and student consumption.
The results showed that university students have an individual ecological footprint lower than the national average and that, like the general population, the greatest environmental impact is made from food consumption.
These findings coincide with the results of other previous studies carried out with young people from Spain and from other European countries. They seem to indicate a positive impact of good practices in Education for Sustainability developed in universities, of the inclusion of sustainability in specific courses and in different subject areas such as engineering, life sciences, business studies or education, and the effect of all the declarations, letters and alliances for sustainability that have been established in recent years in higher education.
More money, more consumption, greater ecological footprint
But the results also show the need to continue acting from education to change the habits of the young population related to food consumption.
They also seem to support the idea that a high socioeconomic level and residence in large urban environments are related to higher consumption, since a greater ecological footprint was obtained in the two private universities analyzed, UCJC and UIC (located in Madrid and Barcelona respectively). in relation to the US (Seville) and UCA (Cádiz).
Students should apply their knowledge about environmental problems and planetary unsustainability to their consumption decisions, especially at this critical moment in which a relationship between food consumption, the destruction of ecosystems and the pandemic.
Loving nature, but not enough
In relation to the indices of pro-environmental attitude and connection with nature developed, the results of this study showed that at higher indices there were no more sustainable habits (lower HE).
It is worrying that the same students who felt more connection with nature (UIC), who showed a more favorable attitude towards its conservation or reported greater happiness when they are in it (UCJC) were, precisely, those who obtained a higher HE as consequence of their consumption habits.
The connection expressed by the students with nature could be interpreted from an anthropocentric and functional vision, rather than from an ecocentric vision in which nature is considered beautiful but fragile, which would explain the pressure exerted on it through excessive consumption and neglected of resources.
Lack of coherence and individual actions
These contradictions in young university students have also been obtained in other studies, in which it was found that students simultaneously showed pro-environmental attitudes and anti-environmental behavior.
This highlights the urgent need for educational interventions to show that our individual actions have a global impact and that our consumption is directly related to the use of resources and the destruction of nature and its ecosystems.
Only in this way can we prevent future environmental and health crises such as the current one, which will require greater commitment, not only at the institutional or administrative level, but also, as shown here, at the individual level.
Monica Fernández Morilla, Professor and researcher at the Faculty of Education. Specialist in Education for Sustainability, International University of Catalonia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.